Why we’re still stuck with bad female bosses in TV and movies

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On the HBO Max series Hacks (streaming on Crave in Canada), Gene Smart (right) plays the comedian and demands boss Deborah Vance in front of Hannah Inbinder.Courtesy of HBO Max

Ask anyone to name a female boss in pop culture and it’s likely that one character will be on everyone’s list: Miranda Priestley, the Anna Wintour clone who makes Andy Sachs’ life miserable as the editor-in-chief of Fantasy Is Way magazine.


it’s been 15 years the devil Wears Prada Priest has become iconic in the cult of pop culture bosses — but for all the wrong reasons. In the early 2000s, his character was clearly meant to be the villain; She deliberately pits employees against each other, hoping they’ll work to the point of burnout and is a master of biting jibs. Priest exemplifies every stereotype of the bad female boss, a trope that is so well established in TV, movies and, unfortunately, real life that gives the term 196 million results.

But the most interesting thing about Priestley is the way we have built a relationship with him over time. By the mid-to-late 2010s, we had entered the era of girlbosses, when women’s commercial success and financial gain became synonymous with feminism, a type of “trickle-down” social justice that never existed as often as Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries. I was not strong. We will believe

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At the same time, TV was full of female anti-heroes, including VeepSelina Meyer, ScandalOlivia Pope, how to avoid murderKey Analysis Keating and house of cards‘Claire Underwood. Sure, all these women were terrible bosses, but by this point it was less a lazy stereotype and more an opportunity to explore how power works.

It is in this context that cultural critics begin to reconsider the brutality of the priesthood. “It’s absolutely true that Miranda Priestley seems like a terrible employer,” wrote Washington Post Columnist Alyssa Rosenberg those days, ,[But] If Miranda Were a Man, She Could Finally Be a Hero Devil Wears PradaA, the character who sees the greatness in Andy and inspires him to achieve it. Instead, his role in the film is more ambiguous. She becomes the person against whom Andy defines himself, the embodiment of everything Andy doesn’t want to be, who nonetheless gives Andy the context that helps him pursue a career as a reporter. ,

Now, against the backdrop of a pandemic, a “racial reckoning” and so-called great resignations, where workers are leaving their jobs in search of more fulfilling opportunities and/or better work-life balance, the way we relate to priests and Other fictional female bosses feel even more complicated. For starters, not much has really changed.

“The women we see as bosses on TV often reflect structural issues [faced by] Women looking for leadership positions in real life,” says Ishani Nath, author, editor and cultural critic. These issues include “over-representation of white women, black women starting their own thing to be on top, few Asian women, no indigenous representation.”

Ms Nath notes that there is also a dichotomy of female mentors on TV who are either “struggling to balance work and home life or women who are rigid and prefer to be alone – [neither] Of which there are narratives that apply to male bosses.”

He is not wrong. while there Huh Some really cool female bosses on TV right now – lol, level headed Gerry Kellman succession comes to mind (except in the current situation with Roman Roy), as does Liz Lawrence. good fight, which is respected by its employees and given life outside of work – even as they are subject to questions about the complexity and evils of capitalism.

Furthermore, there are many female bosses on television right now cast in the same mold as Miranda Priestley. hacks‘ Deborah Vance and ted lassoRebecca Welton may benefit from more character development than her predecessor, but she still ticks many of the same stereotypical boxes: blonde, white, ball-busting, selfish, lonely in her personal life.

There are more racial bosses on screen now, which is a win for representation, but they aren’t immune to these “career woman” tropes either. from regina Maid Portrayed as overly demanding and emotionally inhibited. even ChairJi-eun Kim, who is very progressive in many ways, has a chaotic personal life.

“Maybe the issue is that we haven’t seen any new types of owners because our structures [in real life] That is yet to change,” says Ms. Nath. “Pop culture may be a way for us to imagine what’s possible, but we still don’t know what that looks like for women in the workforce.”

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